'I see him as an Iniesta, Xavi' - what's been said about Portsmouth target Shaun Williams
An Andres Inesta and Xavi-type player who was an excellent Millwall servant.
That’s how Shaun Williams has been described during his career as he closes in on a move to Pompey.
Williams has represented the Millwall MK Dons and broke into the Republic of Ireland squad since coming over from the Emerald Isle.
Having worked under the likes of Karl Robinson, Ian Holloway, Neil Harris and, most recently, Gary Rowett, the 34-year-old’s earned high praise throughout his career.
Here's a look at how some of those figures have outlined his ability and character in the past.
Born in Portmarnock, Dublin, Williams began his career at League of Ireland outfit Drogheda United.
He struggled for first-team opportunities at the Drogs, however, and after loan spells with Dundalk and Finn Harps, he moved to Sporting Fingal in 2009.
Williams grasped his chance at the Morton Stadium. In total, he bagged 16 goals in 65 games and helped Fingal claim the FAI Cup in 2009.
His eye-catching displays saw him selected to represent a League of Ireland XI to face Manchester United in 2010, while he was named the division's Young Player of the Season the same year.
However, after Sporting ceased trading in 2011, Williams was rendered a free agent – and he subsequently made the switch to England.
A unique player
Karl Robinson was responsible for giving Williams his break in the Football League when in charge of MK Dons.
A gamble some might have said at the time given Williams had never tested himself at League One level.
However, it was a move that emphatically paid off.
Williams scored 24 goals in 137 outings for the Dons and was named both Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year in the 2012-13 season.
He departed for Millwall in January 2014 for an undisclosed fee – and Robinson was left devastated given the superb impact Williams had.
The Liverpudlian said: ‘Shaun is going to be a big loss to the football club.
‘His contract was due to run out at the end of the season and although we offered him a new deal, he’s decided to move on and we’ve got to respect that.
‘Even in those first few months, we could see what a talented footballer he was.
‘He is a very unique player, someone who has played in a number of positions for us, and every challenge I have thrown his way he has accomplished with grace.’
Comparison to two Barca greats
It was Ian Holloway who prised Williams to Millwall, beating Brighton to his signature.
Having operated as a centre-back at MK Dons, the ex-Blackpool chief promised to restore Williams to the engine room at the Den.
And Holloway put his playing style in a similar bracket as two Barcelona legends.
Holloway said: ‘I’ve managed to talk the chairman into buying him now, even though we could have waited until the summer when he would have been a free transfer.
‘I spoke to him about my vision of him and where he will be in the future.
‘I don’t just see him as a centre half, I see him as an Iniesta, Xavi or a Charlie Adam type. I would let him go forward and give him a free role.
‘His left foot is like a wand and he can create things around the edge of the box. Hopefully, he’s buying into our vision for him, rather than money.’
An excellent servant
Williams would spend the following seven years at the Lions.
It was the most fruitful spell of his career, scoring 22 goals in 290 appearances as he helped Millwall return to the Championship in 2017.
He also earned a breakthrough into the Republic of Ireland set-up the following campaign and has won three caps in total.
But as Williams progressed into his twilight years of his career, opportunities at the Londoners became more and more sparse.
Confined to 27 appearances last season, he was released at the end of his deal along with fellow long-time servant Frank Fielding.
His exit was described as a ‘tough decision’ by manager Gary Rowett, although Williams left Millwall with the utmost respect.
Rowett said: ‘We felt for different reasons that we couldn’t offer those two players new deals – not because they aren’t brilliant characters, not because they haven’t done fabulously within the group.
‘A difficult season for both of them this year, they’ve not played as much as they’d have liked – particularly for Willo who’s been here seven years.
‘What I will say is that he’s conducted himself fantastically well and has been an excellent servant to this club.
‘Any of the players that have worked hard for us, we’ll try to help them move forward and we wish them all the best.
‘But it’s the Championship and you’ve got to make some tough decisions to try to move the team forward – and those two decisions were pretty tough.’